Even though he is young I think my child is anxious. Will that affect his sleep?
Beyond typical nighttime fears, anxiety can start early in life, so it is indeed possible that your child is suffering from anxiety and I would suggest contacting a health care provider to discuss your concerns here. Anxiety has been associated with sleep disturbances in children and adolescents – and in clinical samples, up to 90% of those with anxiety disorders have reported having problems with their sleep. The specific sleep problems experienced may vary somewhat between children – but certain difficulties are relatively common in children with anxiety – such as reporting nightmares or refusing to go to sleep alone. There is also some evidence to suggest that a child suffering from anxiety may also sleep less deeply than others. The type of sleep disturbance experienced may also depend in part on the type of anxiety your child has – whether it is generalized anxiety or separation anxiety for example.
As to why anxiety and disturbed sleep co-occur, shared genetic and environmental influences are likely to be important. These influences may impact upon levels of arousal in the child for example. It’s also been proposed that certain bedtime practices, such as co-sleeping or staying with a child until he or she falls asleep, could reinforce anxiety and impair sleep. Children who are feeling anxious may also be thinking in a way which is not conducive to nodding off – such as catastrophizing (thinking the worst) about things that have happened in the day or about the impact of not being able to sleep.
To conclude, your questions was about whether anxiety influences sleep – and the answer is likely to be yes in many cases. It’s also important to note that the relationship appears to be bidirectional, meaning sleep affects anxiety and anxiety affects sleep– and persistent sleep problems may also predict later anxiety.About Dr. Alice Gregory